Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Man Who Cycled the World

The Man Who Cycled the World
© 2011 Mark Beaumont
400 pages

Why did Mark Beaumont decide to try and break the world record for circumnavigating the world by bicycle? Well, it beat law school. In his early twenties, with his life's course unclear but full of energy and thirsty for adventure, Beaumont decided to tackle what few had before: cycling the world. His ambition was high, to break the record for doing it by at least two months, and the road ahead along. For nearly three hundred days, he pedaled -- starting in Paris, traveling to Istanbul, and then on to Calcutta via Iran and Pakistan, finally taking ships to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States to cycle them in turn before returning to Europe at Portugal and ending in Paris again. Beaumont’s journey takes the reader with him through pleasant villages, congested cities, mesmerizing country scenes and desolate wildernesses beset by war. Though he largely escapes physical harm, (aside from being hit by a car in Texas, and mugged in Louisiana)  both he and his bike are put to the test by the 100-mile  days.  Through sickness and broken wheels, Beaumont had to struggle with not only  pedaling  upwards to 200 kilometers some days through hills and valleys, on roads that were sometimes scarcely more than dirt ruts, but cultural obstacles as well.  Although the English language is a world empire of its own,  communicating with the people whom he met and arranging food, lodging proved a constant struggle once outside of Europe.  Try finding a bike shop in the middle of a warzone, or worse -- in the United States.

Beaumont didn't do this alone;  shielded in part by the British embassy (presumably because of the BBC's interest in filming him) and guided by his dear mother in Scotland, he was also aided by the many strangers he met along the way.  Although the world is not filled with saints, it is peppered with them, and Beaumont was given a helping hand,  and a meal and a bed in a private home more often than he was scowled at or attacked. A global journey such as his offers the reader plenty of scope for adventure, peril, and a variety of landscapes, and Beaumont's account makes the most of these while minimizing  those portions of the journey which were more tedious.  This is one of the better cycling memoirs I've read, and I'm happy to learn that Beaumont has another. In his epilogue, he mentioned that after this journey he decided to climb the highest peak in North America, Mt. McKinley in Alaska,  then cycle down the coasts of North, Central, and South America to climb the highest peak there, Mt. Aconcagua.  He has now cycled in every continent save Africa and Antartica, and I intend on reading his The Man who Cycled the Americas as soon as it is available in US markets. (Or, I may just buy one from the UK. It certainly wouldn't be the first book of mine which has arrived bearing the marks of the Royal airmail.)

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